Knowing which A-levels are best for you and the degree you want to study can be difficult. While you have complete freedom over your final choice, you still need to be mindful of certain factors, not least what universities expect from prospective students.

Are there some subjects universities don't like? And how focused should you be? Read on to find out.

Check entry requirements carefully

Check the entry requirements

The subjects you choose at A-level will largely be influenced by the entry requirements of the institution you're thinking of applying to and the degree you want to study. You will also need to consider your career plans - which subjects are best suited to your ambitions?

Depending on the degree you have your eye on, you may need to take a specific subject like chemistry or maths for example. That does not mean that you can only choose those subjects, however.

Choosing subjects for your interests

You can choose up to five A-levels to study. This means that you have every opportunity to select a combination of subjects that are both ideal to get onto specific degrees and that are aligned with your personal interests as well.

Remember, you'll be studying A-levels for two years. And while there will be a lot of hard work ahead, you should still enjoy the subjects you're learning.

The courses you choose at A-level will set you up for success elsewhere. As an example, the problem-solving abilities you will develop from studying Maths or a science topic can be applied to your future career or in other areas of your personal development.

Choosing subjects for further education

Can you be too creative or logical?

Many universities have a list of 'non-preferred' subjects. Some of the most common are art & design, media studies, and physical education, though the specific courses varies according to the institution and, naturally, the degree you are applying for.

In 2019, the Russell Group of universities decided to scrap its list of non-preferred subjects altogether, which was welcomed by arts education organisations, though some institutions, like University College London and University of Bath, still require 'preferred' subjects, particularly for science and maths-based degrees. Again, this is where it's important to carefully check the entry requirements and have a back-up option, just in case.

The two sides of the brain

What are some of the common subject combinations universities like?

More often than not, universities will ask for a combination of 'traditional' subjects, also known as 'facilitating' subjects, and others that you have selected based on your interests. Facilitating subjects include maths, English literature, history and the three sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics) amongst others. According to The Complete University Guide, taking two of these subjects will enable you to access a varied range of degree courses, while still leaving you with the space to study subjects which appeal to you for other reasons.

A word on UCAS Points

Each A-level course carries a UCAS Points value. This, as you probably know already, is the main way that universities set their entry requirements. As a reminder, here's how each grade relates to your UCAS Points total:

UCAS points table

There are other ways of gaining UCAS Points, including from extracurricular activities and through alternative courses such as the Access to Higher Education Diploma, which varies between 48 and 144 total points. Such courses are often referred to as gateway qualifications, but just be aware that not all universities will accept these.

It's never too late to choose A-level subjects

While A-levels are most commonly chosen towards the end of GCSEs, there is no age limit. Many students choose to take A-levels later in life for a variety of reasons, whether it's for a change in career, expanding existing skills, or for personal interest. Thanks to online learning, it is now easier to fit studying around existing commitments, without the pressure of returning to college.

Studying online can also be helpful if you don't get the A-level grades you want. You can retake your subjects from the comfort of your home, enabling you to learn at the pace that is ideal for you and which will give you the best chance of success. At Oxbridge, we also have an unlimited tutor support promise, meaning that you will be guided by an expert tutor whenever you encounter a topic you find challenging. So while you'll be learning independently, you'll never be learning solely on your own.

Learning in a library

Ready to make your A-level choices?

Hopefully, we've given you an idea of the A-level courses that universities favour. Take a look at the range of courses we have available here and start making your choices. If you need some additional help choosing your subjects, our learning advisers will be on hand to guide you.

Good luck with your studies!